Review of Dryland by Sara Jaffe


Life is mundane for Julie Winter, an average sophomore living in Portland, Oregon in 1992. She wanders the local craft fair regularly with her best friend, Erika. She cuts captions for the yearbook. She avoids parental interest like the plague.

Until one day when senior swim captain Alexis notices Julie. Julie’s broad shoulders and long frame are perfect for swimming. Plus she has a brother, Jordan, whose legend whispers from every trophy case in the school. Julie is suddenly included–she’s on the swim team, asked to be a photographer in yearbook, and finds herself invited to parties that she would never have dared to attend before. Or wanted to, for that matter. Except for the fact that Alexis will be there.

Jaffe’s writing is a sweet combination of Julie’s narration, objective correlatives, insightful descriptions, and understated sentences. The tale is incomplete, reading like a snapshot of Julie’s sophomore year of high school with little context or hint of what happens next. It is a perfect excerpt of teen awkwardness: confused sexuality, the search for identity, and family troubles. Recommended to adults looking to rediscover teen years and to teens looking for literary companionship.

31 Books That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity

31 Books


I love lists like these. I love to compare my reading list to one compiled by other bookworms. Some of my favorites are on here, and others have been on my to-read list for awhile. As I’m between book reviews right now and considering what to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, this Buzzfeed collection is timely.

What are you #currentlyreading ?



RJHS “Year of the Top 30” Project

This is a school-wide, interdisciplinary program to unite the community in answering these questions: “What does it mean to be American? What does every American need to know? What is the common knowledge of this country?”  I will be supporting teachers as a co-teacher and with research materials as they find the best way to integrate the project into their curricula.  Background reading and inspiration: E.D. Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy: What Every American Should Know.


Project outline:

How to Be American: RJHS “Year of the Top 30”


Situation: Who is “us”?  Common knowledge and common references are what unite us as a people.  E.D. Hirsch began the first list in 1987 with his book Cultural Literacy: What Every American Should Know.  Hirsch’s book of 5,000 items of common knowledge caused much controversy over the American identity and where multiculturalism fits into our nation’s history.


Task: In order to achieve cultural literacy, what does every American need to know?  As a class, choose an essential question and compile a list of 10 things every American should know about that subject.  Student majority votes will condense the lists into the Top 30 for each subject in the spring semester.

Ideas for essential questions:

  • What are the top 10 most important events in the history of America?
  • What are the most influential works of American literature?
  • What are the 10 most essential Mathematical concepts that every American should know?
  • What should every American know about French culture?
  • What are the top 10 scientific theories that every American should know?
  • 10 Things Every Catholic Should Know


Once the class has chosen an essential question, begin researching the knowledge, images, symbols, stories, and references that hold our nation together and compile a class list of the Top 10 and why each item is essential common knowledge for an American citizen.  As a class, create an authentic document / diorama / timeline / poster / media presentation / slideshow that showcases your Top 10.

Be prepared to defend your list at a lunchtime debate series in March and early April.  Your goal is to convince the student panel to add one or more of your items to the Top 30 list for your subject area!


*All projects and Top 30 lists will be on display at the Poetry Slam (April 13th) and all lists will be assembled into the 2015 RJHS Dictionary of Cultural Literacy.



The goals of the project are:

◦To define and recognize common knowledge for all Americans.

◦Use creativity to present the class (or individual) “Top 10” list (consider technology tools!)

◦Connect the dots for your students.  Why do we have to learn…?

◦Promote higher level thinking skills!


Suggested strategies to integrate”Year of the Top 30″ into the curriculum:

◦Have individual assignments (short or long) in which students defend their answer to the essential question.

◦Answer the essential question for each unit or as part of the review at the end of the semester or year.

◦Identify the knowledge, images, symbols, stories & other references that are “essential.”

◦Students create an independent freewrite list with the essential question as a prompt near the end of the course (March / April) with a follow-up discussion, whittling these into a class top 10 list.

◦A teacher-assigned (or student-generated) essential question to guide student research.

◦Student groups are asked to research and decide on 2-3 most important things to know about a topic or the essential question before compiling a class list.

◦Have students decide what the most important topic was from each class unit to make a top 10 list for that subject.


By end of year:

The library will collect the “Top 10” lists from your classes and the projects that represent that knowledge.

A panel of students will decide which items will make it into a top 30 list for each subject area.

The libraries will display the top 30 lists and projects in the spring at the Poetry SLAM!

After a long blogging hiatus…

…I’m back, and now in Denver!  I’m the new librarian in the Girls Division at Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colorado.  Life is good in the Rockies.  Chris and I were ready to leave NYC (It’s a fun place to work, but less fun to live in) when I stumbled across this incredible opportunity to move west.  Chris asked me to marry him in May and we’re planning to have the wedding back in New York, where most of our family is.  More on that in the next year!  We are loving Colorado.

My library is bigger, I have two wonderful library assistants, and the girls here are lovely.  It’s a little TOO perfect, to be frank.  I’ve stepped in at RJ so that two smart, capable librarians could retire.  Luckily we are still in contact, so I have a new support system.  Because these ladies were so effective, there’s a large group of teachers who are dedicated to the library and its curriculum.  I’ve already been able to collaborate with teachers of all disciplines except for science and math, which are still on my end-of-the-year goal list.  I’ll be posting some of my bigger projects on the blog over the next few months, so keep an eye out!

Keep up with RJHS library news on Twitter @RJHSLibraries and here on the FromBirnamWood blog.  Ironically, as I type, an English teacher is teaching Macbeth to a class of ninth graders. I thought it was a good time to stop couch surfing my writing and get the ball rolling again.

Check out this view from my library window.  It doesn’t get much better than that.